Enslaved Africans in the Province of Guatemala, 1600–50

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 10:50 AM
Beekman Parlor (New York Hilton)
Paul Lokken, Bryant University
This paper will focus on a set of data collected since 1996 concerning some 1,400 enslaved individuals of African ancestry identified by name and other personal characteristics in slave sales, wills and similar records produced in the territory of the modern republics of Guatemala and El Salvador (the mid-colonial “Province of Guatemala”) in the half-century between 1600-1650, when African arrivals to mainland colonial Spanish America appear to have peaked.  Among the enslaved individuals identified in this collection of data, compiled almost exclusively from notarial and other records held in the Archivo General de Centro América (AGCA) in Guatemala City, are roughly 500 youths and adults indicated explicitly to have been African-born, mostly with terms or phrases like “biafara,” “de tierra angola,” “de casta anchico,” and “de nación congo.”  While the data set represents neither a comprehensive review of the documentation available in the AGCA nor, in the aggregate, a systematic sampling of a particular type of source, it provides many useful points of entry for achieving a clearer understanding on a wide range of issues having to do with the African slave trade to, and African enslavement in, the Province of Guatemala during the first half of the seventeenth century.  These issues range from such longstanding scholarly concerns as slave prices, occupations, and sex ratios to the specific patterns of forced African migration to various regions of Spanish America now being illuminated more fully by ongoing development of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database.  With regard to the latter issue, the data set underscores the significance of West Central Africa as the point of origin for involuntary  migration to the region of Central America isolated for discussion.  That migration pattern largely mirrors the one long associated with Veracruz while differing substantially from Cartagena’s as assessed most comprehensively by David Wheat.